sire, by W. S. Merwin,

Here comes the shadow not looking where it is going,

And the whole night will fall; it is time.

Here comes the little wind which the hour

Drags with it everywhere like an empty wagon through leaves.

Here comes my ignorance shuffling after them

Asking them what they are doing.


Standing still, I can hear my footsteps

Come up behind me and go on

Ahead of me and come up behind me and

With different keys clinking in the pockets,

And still I do not move. Here comes

The white-haired thistle seed stumbling past through the branches

Like a paper lantern carried by a blind man.

I believe it is the lost wisdom of my grandfather

Whose ways were his own and who died before I could ask.


Forerunner, I would like to say, silent pilot,

Little dry death, future,

Your indirections are as strange to me

As my own. I know so little that anything

You might tell me would be a revelation.


Sir, I would like to say,

It is hard to think of the good woman

Presenting you with children, like cakes,

Granting you the eye of her needle,

Standing in doorways, flinging after you

Little endearments, like rocks, or her silence

Like a whole Sunday of bells. Instead, tell me:

Which of my many incomprehensions

Did you bequeath me, and where did they take you? Standing

In the shoes of indecision, I hear them

Come up behind me and go on ahead of me

Wearing boots, on crutches, barefoot, they could never

Get together on any doorsill or destination —

The one with the assortment of smiles, the one

Jailed in himself like a forest, the one who comes

Back at evening drunk with despair and turns

Into the wrong night as though he owned it — oh small

Deaf disappearance in the dusk, in which of their shoes

Will I find myself tomorrow?

7 Responses to “sire, by W. S. Merwin,”

  1. November 9, 2010 at 1:30 am

    I like the poem, despite my inability to understand this mode of writing. (I’m not a very literate person).

    I really like the picture too…that dark foreboding feeling underneath the thin edge of light which suggests a kind of hope. Did you take this picture?…where was it taken?

  2. November 9, 2010 at 2:20 am

    I think the best way to approach a poem is just to see what it makes you see, how it makes you feel. It reminds me a little of when we know what we feel, but aren’t able to tell anyone else.

    I think the imagery in this one is fantastic; the wagon through (dead) leaves, the rustle of the paper lantern, the shoes of indecision, flinging endearments like a handful of little rocks. . .being jailed within yourself as in a forest (can you see the trees as the bars of the jail?)

    I took the picture. I didn’t have enough light, really, which accounts for the overall tone. It’s Lake Michigan at sunset.

    • November 9, 2010 at 4:08 pm

      Thank you for that tip. A long time ago I learnt to dislike poetry in school. I don’t think my teachers were at all good at encouraging us to take this experiential approach – we focused on the structure, the individual words.

      The picture…maybe the light wasn’t “enough”, but to me it has a wonderful feeling – that where I am is cold and dark, I’m by myself, and looking out to an infinite world which offers some mysterious but vaguely hopeful possibilities; but with plenty of risks.

      I really like visiting your blog…the fact that it has a lot of thought and emotion apparent.


  3. November 9, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Billy Collins summarizes the best approach in “Introduction to Poetry”:

    “I ask them to take a poem
    and hold it up to the light
    like a color slide

    or press an ear against its hive.

    I say drop a mouse into a poem
    and watch him probe his way out,

    or walk inside the poem’s room
    and feel the walls for a light switch.

    I want them to water-ski
    across the surface of a poem
    waving at the author’s name on the shore.

    But all they want to do
    is tie the poem to a chair with rope
    and torture a confession out of it.

    They begin by beating it with a hose
    to find out what it really means.”

    I’m glad you enjoy the blog. I enjoy having a regular reader and comment-er. 🙂

  4. 5 cestlavieladypatience
    November 13, 2010 at 1:30 am

    I really like that picture. Did you take it? I instantly got depressed looking at that picture.

  5. November 13, 2010 at 3:28 am

    @sheriji I suppose depressed wasn’t a good word to use. But I do like that picture. I suppose just looking at the picture took me off into the deep abyss.

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